Prompted by teachers’ concerns, the Douglas County School District pushed back the date on which teachers must declare their intent to retire and still keep severance benefits.
Originally set for July 25, teachers now can delay that decision nearly a year until June 2013, Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen announced to applause at the July 17 board meeting.
Details on the change were to be rolled out July 18, Fagen said.
School officials earlier said the district needed to cut severance to fund a 1 percent raise for teachers, and would by month’s end phase out a portion of the program that awards departing teachers about $37,000 each.
“All employees who elect to retire and who notify the district by July 25, 2012, will receive 100 percent of their (extended service severance),” the district’s Compensation and Benefits Program explained. “All employees who are considering this option should talk with their immediate supervisor as soon as possible. All other (severance) will be phased out. This phase-out program is TBD and all details will be sent to employees as soon as the final plan is complete.”
Leaders of the teachers’ union, which had been notifying educators about the situation, said the district failed to alert teachers to the rapidly approaching date, and teachers had called the district to express their dismay.
“We’ve heard, we’ve talked,” Fagen said during the board meeting.
“We have made significant changes and we’ll roll out our improved severance phase-out tomorrow.”
Fagen said the district needed direction from the board before it could announce the change. Neither Fagen nor the board explained how the changed date affects funding for the 1 percent raise.
Fagen’s announcement was prompted by a fifth-grade teacher, Debbie St. Martin, who told the board she’d intended to teach during the coming year but felt pushed into considering retirement instead.
“I realized there was no way I could get everything completed within the time given,” she said. “I had to notify Medicare, PERA (Public Employees’ Retirement Association), Social Security, etc., all requiring at least two or more months.
“This is not in the best interest of your employees of Douglas County.”
The district has been working to address issues outlined in the collective bargaining agreement, which expired June 30 after negotiations between the district and union failed. The district set up a new “Commitment to Employees” link on its website designed to relay up-to-date information to its staff.
Teachers’ compensation programs will change, but teachers still will get financial rewards, district spokesperson Randy Barber said.
“We’re just moving compensation around. Compensation hasn’t been decreased at all,” he said. “There are plenty of rumors out there, but the truth is, we’re moving forward with our employees’ best interests in mind.”
The board recently approved the raise, a 1 percent retention bonus and other benefits.
To finance the raise, the district plans to phase out three existing teachers’ compensation programs. Some of the money that funds them will go into a new compensation plan based on teacher performance.
But that won’t happen overnight. Current programs that reward teachers based on the number of years they’ve taught and continuing education will be phased out.
“We thank our employees for their patience during this time of change,” Barber said.
“We don’t necessarily have all the answers yet. There’s going to be more clarity as we move on.”
The district needs $2.8 million to finance the 1 percent, across-the-board pay increase, and funds designated for severance payouts originally were chosen as the source.
Roughly 100 district employees retire each year, with teachers receiving an average payout of $37,000 and support staff about $12,000 each. More than 400 are eligible for retirement in the next five years.
District officials see the severance program as problematic because it rewards teachers for leaving; they’d like instead to offer incentives to stay.